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Chang Mai and the North

Article by - Your travel partner in Indochina, Myanmar and Thailand.

Chiang Mai, 700km northwest of Bangkok, is Thailand’s second city and the gateway to northern Thailand. There are over 300 temples and monasteries in Chiang Mai, almost as many Bangkok, and the city has a long tradition for arts and crafts. Once described as one of the loveliest cities imaginable Chiang Mai still retains a certain flavour of the past with its moated old city, ancient wats and leafy back streets. Chiang Mai’s oldest temple is Wat Chiang Man which dates back to 1296 and is known for its two Buddha images, one made of the stone and the other made from crystal. Almost as old, Wat Phra Singh in the centre of town contains a 1,500 year old Buddha image and another wat, Wat Chedi Luang, holds the ruins of a huge chedi or stupa that collapsed in an earthquake in 1545. The Chiang Mai National Museum, just to the north of the city centre, houses an extensive collection of Buddha images and northern Thai handicrafts. Another museum that is worth a visit especially for those preparing to go trekking is the Tribal Museum which houses a good display of hilltribe textiles, jewellery, musical instruments, weapons and other artefacts.

Around 15km east of Chiang Mai is Bo Sang, also known as the Umbrella Village, where handmade paper umbrellas and many other hilltribe handicrafts are sold. Another popular excursion from Chiang Mai is a visit to the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre where attractions include elephant rides, elephant bathing and an exhibition on the importance of the elephant in Thai history and culture. Doi Suthep, 16km west of the city, is an attractive spot that offers panoramic views of Chiang Mai from its hill-top temple. Further afield is Thailand’s highest peak, Doi Inthanon, set in a large national park offering some pleasant walks among the mountain scenery of forests and waterfalls and a popular site for birdwatchers.

Just over 100km northeast of Chiang Mai is Chiang Rai, a good base for exploring the far north from. Chiang Rai’s best-known sight is Wat Phra Kaeo, a 13th century monastery where the Emerald Buddha in the Bangkok wat of the same name, was discovered. The hill town of Mae Hong Son sits close to the Myanmar border northwest of Chiang Mai and is a centre for cross border trading with its neighbour. The influence of Myanmar can be seen in the town’s Burmese style wats, the best-known of which is Wat Jong Klong located beside a lake in the centre of town. Mae Hong Son is another convenient base for hilltribe treks.

The northeastern corner of Thailand, known as Isan, is a huge sandstone plateau bordered by the Mekong River in the north and east over which lies Laos. This little visited region of Thailand was historically part of the great Khmer Empire ruled from Angkor and the main attractions for travellers are the numerous Khmer ruins scattered throughout the area. The principal town in Isan is Nakhon Ratchasima, also known as Khorat, from where it is possible to visit the magnificent Khmer sites of Phimai, Muang Tham and Thailand’s finest Khmer temple, Phnom Rung.

Sukhothai, Thailand’s first capital founded in 1257, was lost in the jungle until 1833 when it was rediscovered. The remains of the old city are now contained within the Sukhothai Historical Park and the Ramkhanhaeng National Museum is the first place to visit for an overview of the history of Sukhothai. Wat Mahathat is the largest of the old city’s temples and houses a collection of around 200 chedis while the impressive Wat Si Chum contains an enormous seated Buddha image. Another interesting wat is Wat Chang Lom whose chedi is surrounded by 36 elephants, the holiest of animals for Buddhists.

Chiang Mai & The North Highlights

  • Chiang Mai’s numerous wats including Wat Chiang Man, Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang

  • The Tribal Museum for a fine collection of northern Thailand’s hilltribe textiles and other artefacts
  • Visit the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre for a close encounter with Thailand’s holiest animal
  • Escape to Doi Inthanon National Park to enjoy scenic walks among mountain forests and waterfalls
  • Head east to explore the magnificent Khmer ruins of Phnom Rung, Phimai and Muang Tham
  • Sukhothai for the remains of Thailand’s first capital reclaimed from the jungle

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